Wet-weather lovers

Wednesday 22 January 2014, 16:51

Kate Lewthwaite Kate Lewthwaite Phenology expert

Early sightings of so many species conform to a long-term trend in which spring has gradually arrived earlier in the UK. We need people to record what they are seeing so scientists can see how the changing climate is affecting our wildlife and species and how they might be adapting.

We want people to look out for the first frogspawn they see, the first newts and - a little later in the season - the first tadpoles.

So far in 2014, there have not been any frogspawn sightings in the UK recorded via Nature's Calendar, which is quite surprising given the mild conditions, so please keep your eyes peeled, especially in the south-west of England.

The earliest ever frogspawn recorded by Nature’s Calendar was in 2004 on November 1; the average across recent years  is around March 6. Last year’s average was the latest ever at March 17, no surprise due to the coldest March for 50 years, an unusual exception to the trend.

If you’ve ever seen mating frogs you will recall the violent frenzy of many clasped bodies writhing in the water. Male frogs hop onto the female of their choice in what is called an ‘amplexus’ – a position similar to that of a piggy-back. This, however, often involves a violent struggle.

Therefore, sexually active frogs develop rough, swollen nuptial pads on their first fingers to help them grip onto their chosen mate, and cling on longer than other competitive males. It is in this position that the male waits until his partner produces her clump of frogspawn, which the male can then fertilise.

Frogspawn sightings show a fascinating pattern each year- they are always seen first in Devon or Cornwall and then spread slowly up the west coast of Wales and into northern England, East Anglia is one of the last places they are seen. Check out the animated map showing last year's records. 

However, these amphibian species  that could be fooled into early spawning by warmer weather, such as frogs, that only spawn once a year, could be vulnerable to the sort of freeze not uncommon in February or March.

It is the spawn that is particularly under threat  from freezing, since it floats near the surface of the water; once the tadpoles have hatched, they can swim to the warmer depths of the pond or lake  so are better able to adapt to a return to a sudden chill.

Anyone can get involved and recording is simple. We need your help. To find out more information about finding and recording amphibians, visit our website.

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